Snapchat or Drought?
India's Elite Makes a Case for Tanmay Bhat versus Lata and Sachin

“Snapchat or drought?” demanded Arnab Goswami on Newshour. That one cryptic query bears witness to how reductive debates are and what freedom of expression has come down to.

A standup comic Tanmay Bhat put up a short video where he impersonated Lata Mangeshkar and Sachin Tendulkar in a mock battle. Impersonation and mimicry are a staple of comedians and if done well can caricature the subjects and throw in more than just laughs.

Tanmay Bhat does nothing of the sort. It’s the kind of thing your friends might slap their thighs over as you crack off-colour jokes at the pub, and that too only if you are paying for the drinks.

However, everyone has their rights. He to do what he did, and I to find it objectionable. But, there are people who will fight for his right to be stupid but not yours to be offended by such stupidity. And how do they justify it?

It so happens that the MNS party and the like issued threats calling for the removal of the video, and of beating up Tanmay. The police too got into the act.

All of this happened after the controversy broke out. It is ridiculous to assume that those who object to the video want it censored or the comedian arrested or harmed in any way. (I am putting it up, too.) If they want a bloody disclaimer with that line, “I may not agree with what you say but I’ll defend your right to say it”, then I’ll just ask them to shut up since they think there will be fewer clicks on their liberalism were they to defend another’s right to have a differing opinion.

I have one major objection to that video, and it is Tanmay as Sachin poking fun at Lata’s age – her face looks like it has been in water for eight days apparently – and urging her to die. To anybody who has elderly parents, this should hurt deeply. It isn’t about the pop taunt of “hurt sentiments” – it is closer to the bone. You are a hypocrite if you go online to outrage over an old person being ill-treated by her family or post pained captions on seeing pictures of old age homes but think that Mr. Tanmay Bhat’s act is just fine.

The funny thing is that the Tanmay camp finds it offensive when there are girth jokes about him. Fat-shaming, they say. It is and it is offensive. Wonder why they do not find age-shaming offensive too. Clearly, a level-playing field satisfies nobody.

They say people are just obsessed with this icons business and both are Bharat Ratnas. The irony is that even suppose they are ‘protected species’, just what are these urban legends like Tanmay Bhat? One does not see social media denizens support the right of a Johny Lever or a Kamaal R. Khan for similar ‘humour’; they are, in fact, dismissed as crass. This proves that it is not about freedom of speech but about elitist cliques.

For those who think Tanmay Bhat as well his AIB group are independent-minded rebels, do not forget that they had sent their queries in advance to be vetted for their roast on Bollywood celebrities and apologised to the Church. [I had written about AIB Knockout's fake fight for FoE]

Somebody even posted that those “hounding Tanmay” would return after a couple of days to their old task of “harassing Muslims”. This is just so pathetic to even put them on par. The hounding is done by some political parties/idiots; minority harassment is social behavior in its varied forms.

Also, all manner of caste and regionalism has come into play, and while these aspects of the ‘hounders’ (including weirdly enough the people spoofed) are highlighted, the comedian’s caste etc. are not dragged in. One says it is because Lata and Sachin are Brahmins people are protecting them, another says Marathi pride should be hurt by drought in Maharashtra and not a Snapchat video.

Nobody can deny that casteism is prevalent in India, but in this case is it being milked dry to support bad humour, reducing the genuine debate over it. Ask these same people to do a Snapchat funny video of our other Brahmins – TV anchors and newspaper editors (who should naturally stand for their FoE) and they have no answer.

I suspect some even think that the comedian was making an anti-casteist statement...except that the Brahmin Lata trills to Sachin, "Vinod (Kambli) is better than you". Kambli is from a backward class community. And if we really want to get into this, then it is again the Bhat way to get a high-caste to legitimise him. 

The worst is dragging in the drought. Media people who were pained about the time wasted on such stupid debates as against the drought went on to host shows discussing Tanmay Bhat. Do they even have a spine, forget a conscience?

The drought vs. Snaphat idea is opportunistic and insensitive. Nobody is censoring the drought, so give it attention, and not only when it is ‘happening’ to do so.

Then there were those saints who said if you don’t like it don’t watch it. They seem to have reached a Zen state where they know without watching whether something is likeable or not. And if switching off is the answer to deal with what we find offensive, then I guess we can apply if to hate speech and government policies too. In fact, these zombies probably do, except for they Twitter/Facebook forays where they lend their shoulders to the martyrs they create.

Director Mahesh Bhatt posted this quote by George Carlin:

“I think it's the duty of a comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately.”

Yeah sure. Our PM has been doing this for a while now. And the joke is on us.